Power Players

Barack Obama to U.S. voters: 'Our elections matter to everyone'

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the stage as he attends an Obama Foundation event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Dec. 13, 2019.
Ahaim Mohd | NurPhoto | Getty Images

With the U.S. presidential election about a month away, former President Barack Obama has urged citizens to cast their votes in a race that matters not only nationally, but globally.

As the de facto world leader and international standard-bearer for policymaking, the U.S. holds major sway over world events and the choices made by the incoming president will have huge ramifications for the coronavirus pandemic and other generation-defining issues, Obama said Thursday. 

"The U.S. still underwrites a lot of the world order that we know. Even our adversaries expect us to behave responsibly on the international stage," he said, speaking at tech platform Twilio's annual conference.

On something like the pandemic or climate change, if we're not at the table helping to shape solutions, then a vacuum develops.
Barack Obama
former President of the United States

"And so, on something like the pandemic or climate change, if we're not at the table helping to shape solutions, then a vacuum develops, and it's very hard to get coordinated international action."

That characteristically American role will not be assumed by other countries, like China, India, or Brazil, he said. And that has implications not only for the handling of universal crises but also other, seemingly localized issues, such as racial inequality and the rise of extremism.

"Many of the trends of division that we're seeing in the United States, we see in other parts of the world," Obama said, referencing the stand-off between democracy and other authoritarian ideals in Europe and elsewhere. 

"That contest of ideas is playing itself out around the world," he noted. "And so our elections matter to everyone; we set a tone."

'Get educated' on the facts

In exercising the right to vote, Obama — the U.S.'s 44th president and a Democrat — urged people on both sides of the political aisle to "look squarely at the facts."

"It is important for everybody, I think, to just get educated on what is true and what is not," he said.

"If you look at Covid, it is important for us to acknowledge 200,000 people have died. Our performance in handling the pandemic has not been on par with other wealthy, advanced nations, whether in Europe or Asia, and why is that?"

Then, "people have to vote," Obama continued. And persuade their friends, family and colleagues to do so too, he said. 

"I am a big believer that when people exercise the franchise, and they're basing it on their role as informed citizens, we get good outcomes," he said.

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